Physio’s advice: Do the rewards of cycling outweigh the risks?

Resident Full Sus physion, Rashaad Jakoet tells us why the risks of cycling are all worth it, especially for your long- term health.

It’s 2019, and with it comes a long list of people with reservations and excuses about starting a new year’s resolution or goal. One excuse I often hear as a physiotherapist is that cycling is too dangerous. There is always the story of a friend or family member who broke their collar bone (or other body part) while cycling and needed some time out to recover. I normally counter that argument by saying that being a couch potato is more dangerous as you are at an increased risk of developing a life-threatening condition such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc. With any physical activity there is an element of risk and while this is unavoidable, most risk factors can be minimized.

There is a movement among medical professionals that is calling for the prescription of exercise, as one
would prescribe pharmaceuticals (, as part of a holistic treatment plan. It is a global
health initiative managed by the American college of Sports Medicine.

“EIM (Exercise Is Medicine) is committed to the belief that physical activity promotes optimal health,is integral in the prevention and treatment of many medical conditions and should be regularly assessed and
included as part of health care.”

The difference with exercise as medicine, is that the side effects are mostly good (excluding injury). The benefits of cycling include: decreased stress levels, reduced anxiety and depression, increased cardiovascular fitness, increased muscle strength, increased joint mobility, improved posture, decreased body fat and the prevention and/or management ofnon-communicable diseases. Both body and mind benefit greatly. Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano (You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body) Roman poet Juvenal. For centuries we have known of the relationship between a healthy body and a healthy mind.

Others then cite traffic accidents and pollution as another excuse for not hopping on a bike. A study
covering several capital cities addressed this and investigated whether cycling is indeed beneficial for
health. The authors concluded: For individuals who shift from car to bicycle, we estimated that beneficial effects of increased physical activity are substantially larger (3–14 months gained) than the potential mortality effect of increased inhaled air pollution doses (0.8–40 days lost) and the increase in traffic accidents (5–9 days lost)….. On average, the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks of cycling relative to car driving. For the society as a whole, this can be even larger because there will be a reduction in air pollution emissions and eventually fewer traffic accidents. Policies stimulating
cycling are likely to have net beneficial effects on public health, especially if accompanied by suitable transport planning and safety measures. Johan de Hartog (2010), Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks? Environmental health perspectives.

Another study published in the American journal of Public Health found that using bike lanes reduced road
accident injury risk by up to 90%! I realize that to those reading this, it feels like I am preaching to the converted. This is aimed more at those who have friends and family members that always have an excuse and try rationalizing not getting onto a bike. This column is to help counter those arguments and encourage them to live a healthier life in 2019 and beyond. Buy that bike, have it set up correctly, minimize injury risk, utilize safe cycling practices (bike lanes, single file) and start enjoying the outdoors.


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